Selection

In the most general sense, productivity is about navigating from a large constellation of possible things you could be doing to the actual execution of a much smaller number of things each day.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2021/04/20/the-productivity-funnel/

A decade ago, I was swamped by the sheer number things I could possibly do each day. In one sense, that’s a good problem to have. But good or bad problem, “swamped” and “drowning” are adjacent. I’d committed myself to far too many things. Large swaths of those “possible things” every day came with emotional baggage, and often with the self-imposed weight of “should.” And so I worked on that and eliminated all the negative things.

Unfortunately, selecting what to tackle each day remains just as challenging. I’ve a habit of creating a “page for today” that I scribble on early in the morning. As the day progresses, I cross things off, jot down notes, scribble things which I need to add to my other systems, etc.. Over the years, I’ve used various bits of random paper; for a time, I was using the back-side of all the printer paper from the recycle bin. I’ve used spiral notebooks, tablets, and even a custom spreadsheet, (which I printed on 8.5×11 paper and cut in half to make my own table of half-sheet daily schedule/grid.)

Recently, I realized that the size of the paper I was using was getting progressively smaller. I’m currently using a 3×5-size of Rhodia notebook. (These, if you’re interested. Durable, great paper, and, critically, every page is micro-perforated so I can tear out each day to start fresh the next day.) The sublime recipe of page size, line space, handwriting style and hours in the day goes a long way to keep my selection of what to do tending towards the possible. Whether the sheet for today feels cramped or airy is a good indication of what I’m setting myself up for.

And to be clear, I don’t plan every day into this little book early each morning. On the days when I’ve something big planned—a day trip to the beach, a long weekend away—I throw all structure to the wind. But most days I do.

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The balance of no-balance

There was no sense of trying to balance my desire for doing good and useful things with my desire for comfort and pleasure. I let the good and useful always outrank the pleasurable and comfortable. Operating this way entailed a fair amount of physical discomfort, but it felt far more emotionally comfortable than trying to manage two competing sets of values.

And here’s the interesting part: pleasure and comfort arose constantly anyway. I enjoyed them when they did, with no sense of tradeoff or guilt. However, I didn’t do anything just because it was pleasurable or comfortable, and ironically that made for a much more pleasant and comfortable existence.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/04/the-ancient-art-of-using-time-well/

I have a few reminders that are variations of the idea that I cause all the problems I experience. The more I let that idea seep in, the better things seem to get. It takes energy to balance; balancing priorities, balancing goals, balancing time-frames of planning, balancing rationalization versus guilt, balancing energy levels, balancing responsibilities, balancing gratification versus delay, …

Try this: find something to balance on. Something pretty easy. A 2×4 laid on its wide side, or stood on it’s narrow edge. A curb. A railing if you dare. Get a stopwatch and balance (your toes/heel go along the thing you’re on, not perched like a bird) for 30 minutes. No music, no walking forward or backward, no doing anything else. Shift to the other foot when one side is tired. If you fall off, don’t chide yourself. Simple get back on. Practice being kind to yourself as you do this.

Balancing takes tremendous energy.

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You don’t say

This can lead to overwork, burnout, tiredness, and never letting ourselves enjoy a moment of rest.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/guilt/

I am by far my own worst enemy. Go go go. Do do do. In the past year this is the area where I’ve made the most progress. I’ve gotten much better at setting out a sane plan for my days. And when a day doesn’t go exactly as planned—so, basically every day—I’m now able to roll with it.

Also, I’ve long been good at “active” days off. I can spend a day biking or climbing or at some event. It doesn’t need to be gonzo-level physical either. I think the feeling of physical activity convinces my mind that something meaningful has been accomplished.

But what I cannot do is simply idle. Sit on a beach… not drinking nor reading nor writing nor thinking. Or relax on my patio. “Just be,” is definitely still beyond my grasp.

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Programming is terrible, part 2

Three years ago I posted, Programming is terrible. These days? …yeah, exactly the same, but now I find I’m staring suspiciously at, basically, everything thinking: I’m about to do something which, as soon as I completely forget the details, (in the too-near future,) I’m going to be left with something that irritates me. A mess of my own making, as it were.

I’ve been on a bender for decades—which clearly means I’ve not been succeeding, right? I’ve been on a bender to simplify things as much as I can. A lot of progress can be made in that direction simply by removing goals: If I can delete the goal of, “make this thing be successful,” then that might make it possible to simply enjoy the thing. Normal people would just call that “a hobby” and wouldn’t need a paragraph to unpack the idea.

Rock climbing falls into this “hobby” category. I’m a poor, (as in skill,) climber, but since I don’t have any goals related to climbing, it’s just, “any day at the crag.” (And the, “…is better than any other day,” is left unsaid.) That’s literally my mantra. (Somebody should find me a sticker that says that for the top of my climbing helmet.) Some days I climb a bunch of stuff. Some days I fall off a bunch of stuff. Some days it’s glorious weather. Some days it’s tics, snakes and poison ivy. I’ve climbed a bunch of stuff already. There’s a bunch more stuff to climb.

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What can be accomplished in a day

As usual, I’m forced to face the reality that what I want to get done, will never fit into my today. On one hand, it would be serene to have nothing that I wanted to do; it would be serene to simply “be” through the course of one day. On the other hand, there are things I would deeply enjoy doing which also generate benefit for myself, those around me, and the world at large. This creates tension.

The point of life isn’t to resolve that tension, but rather to live within the tension.

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Preoccupied with work

They are always preoccupied with work so that they may be in position to live better; they spend life in making provision for life. Their plans are designed for the future, but procrastination is the greatest waste of life. It robs us of each day as it comes, and extorts the present from us on promises of the future. Expectancy is the greatest impediment to living: In anticipation of tomorrow it loses today.

~ Seneca

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Make hay

“Make hay while the sun shines,” is an old proverb; We’re still using it today, 500 years after it’s first written mention. It contains deep wisdom which counsels taking advantage of opportunities as they arise. It’s taken me a loong time to get used to the fact that what I see as an opportunity, and what I see as a chore, (or work—however you care to phrase that,) are quite fluid. There’s an ebb and flow to what I want to engage in. Some things which most [sane] people would consider a complete suffer-festival—”omg why would you want to do that?!”—are the things I skip happily towards when the proverbial sun is shining. A day or two later, the things I was skipping away from become the things I’m marching back towards to whistle while I work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83bmsluWHZc

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Let’s grab a kayak

Let’s grab a kayak to Quincy or Nyack
Let’s get away from it all

~ Lyrics by Tom Adair

The secret to life, of course, is to first get away from it all, then grab that kayak. Because wherever I go, there I find myself. The things that one wants to “get away from” are all things over which you exclusively have control. That stack of papers that should be filed… This mountain of debt… That broken air conditioning… Even really hard things like mortgages, needy pets, frenemies, toxic family members… you are in control of how you act and how you assess those things.

Have you truly and honestly examined the things in your life which are weighing on your mind?

You have? Great! That’s the easy part.

The hard part? Let go. Toss things out of your life. Realize the hearse has no luggage rack. 15,000 years from now nothing you did or worried about will matter at all. You have exactly this one lifetime. Apprehend why each thing is in your life and appreciate it, right now. Build things up. Help people. Create. …we humans are creatures meant for social interaction, of course. But no regrets. No could’a should’a would’a.

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No and yes

Because we can’t say no—because we might miss out on something if we did. We think “yes” will let us accomplish more, will give us more of what we want, when in reality it prevents exactly what we seek. All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://dailystoic.com/how-to-say-no-advice-from-the-worlds-most-powerful-man/

Accepting and rejecting are two sides of the same coin. A lot—I contemplated writing “all”—of my problems came from being unable to intentionally say, “yes,” or being unable to intentionally say, “no.” When completely lacking the skill from either side of this coin, I’m a puppet for others. I’m one of those doormats that says, “WELCOME,” come on in and use me.

But simply developing both of the skills is not enough. I needed to learn to balance the skills; To balance the requirements of life with the pursuits of pleasure, leisure, and creativity. That requires a finer control of these, “yes,” and, “no,” skills.

I occasionally encounter people who speak of, “always saying, ‘yes and…’.” That’s utter nonsense. One can only say once to the pan-handler on the street asking for money, “yes, and take my house.” Or to the myriad of people clamoring for one’s attention online, “yes, and…” scrolling scrolling scrolling and… the whole hour is lost.

The mastery level of, “no,” and, “yes,” is to go beyond reacting to life—figuring out which tool to deploy in this situation—to intentionally using, “no,” and, “yes,” to navigate life.

Distraction, Busyness, Hurrying: No.

Discovery, Reflection, Efficacy: Yes, and…

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